Swollen abdomen in 1-year old, never laid an egg

My Brood

6 Years
Apr 20, 2013
We have a little flock of three hens, all one year old. One EE, who started laying around 7 months, a Buff Orpington who started laying around 9 months and a Wellsummer who has never laid an egg. The EE still lays regularly, 4-5 eggs per week. The Buff stopped laying about a month ago, we're assuming molting and are patiently awaiting the return of the brown eggs. The Wellsummer is the reason for my post.

Social/Medical History: She arrived last April, near death, as a 3-day-old chick. There was a mix-up at the post office and she and the other 2 that she was shipped with were stuck in a freezing warehouse for an extra day...their warm pack got cold and when they finally got to our house, two died right away and the third survived with gentle warming, electrolytes and sugar water...hence her name, Sugar. We love her dearly and don't really mind that she hasn't given us any eggs. I have wondered if she may have had some damage to her egg laying parts due to her early trauma. I have no scientific reason to suspect this, I just do.

History of Present Illness: This morning, when we let them out to free-range in our back yard (which they have done since the snow cleared a month ago), we noticed that she was moving around slower than usual, sitting down a lot and generally not acting her normal, greedy self. When we picked her up, it was obvious that her abdomen, all around and under her vent, was quite swollen though soft (boggy). There was a little poo remenants but nothing caked on.
I did some quick Dr. Internet-ing and came up with possible: internal egg laying, egg-bound, mystery ascites.

Treatment so far: I lubed up my finger and checked her vent in and out. Did not feel anything egg-like anywhere. She didn't feel particularly hot inside, either. Gave her a warm bath and gentle massage. Put her in our hospital pen (an old pack-n-play) and now watching for poop/eating/drinking.

Feed and Water: They get "Scratch and Peck" layer feed, kitchen scraps (none of them will eat anything green but love carbs and dairy) and fresh water with a touch of apple cider vinegar added to the jug. About a week ago, we added a free choice container of oyster shell.

Activity: She is normally a very active girl. She keeps an eye on the back door and books across the yard to greet us and beg for treats (we are reasonable with these, but she is ever hopeful). She has done the "egg squat" off and on for several months. Has been slightly more likely to do it in the past month and we have been thinking that she might actually start laying...now this instead.

Weather: Michigan is insane. This has been a cold Spring. Mostly 40s-50s. Two days ago, we had a high-70s day, then a lot of rain. Yesterday, it was again in the 40s and we had snow.

Most of what I read is pretty dire. Not sure if anyone can suggest anything as a possible cause. The only thing a bit different in our case from what others with swollen-abdomened-hens have dealt with is the never having laid issue. I'd be fine draining her if I thought it would help, but it sort of seems like eventually, she'll succumb to whatever this is. Hoping for an optimistic voice out there. We have duramycin left over from another, unrelated illness from last summer (that one we euthanized), Wazine, too. Would either of these help?
Thanks for any advice or information.
Poor hen. The mushiness of her belly suggests ascites. It sounds like you have read similar information regarding draining - it may provide some relief up to a few months even, but it wouldn't really address the cause of the problem. However, the fact that she is not laying suggests that she may be an internal layer. Internal layers can be prone to infection, so that may explain the mushy belly.

I had an internal layer who lived with the condition for over a year. her belly was massive and more dense feeling. I guess she some how avoided an internal infection for a long time. She would waddle around with her big belly and still enjoy her food and sand bathing.

As you gathered from your own research, there really is not a clear cut answer. Draining her abdomen may be worth a try. I am honestly not sure what kind of antibiotic is best for treating an internal infection if she has one.
thanks for the sympathy and information. I really appreciate the reply. I know this topic has been here a million times but it is nice to have the support of the community.
I put her back with the others at bedtime last night. This morning, much of the same. We made an appointment with a vet for tomorrow, expecting bad news and possible/likely euthanization. Because she looked so miserable, I went ahead and attempted to drain her to make her more comfortable until tomorrow. I got 120cc of crystal clear fluid. I stopped there because I worried about taking too much. After putting her back out in the yard, she was very quiet for a bit then definitely more active, actually scratching around. I moved all of the big landscaping rocks so that she and the others could feast on bugs and worms. It was a sweet moment with them all.
I was surprised that the fluid was clear. So glad I got a good spot on the first try and that she didn't even flinch when I poked her.
Dreading tomorrow but ready to be somewhat pragmatic (so I think). *sigh*
Another Update.
Today, she looked right as rain in the morning. Ran right out of the coop to start scratching around. Her abdomen was a lot smaller, so assuming she drained more overnight. Still enlarged, though and I saw that our BO was curiously pecking her bottom again today. Sugar doesn't move away, just lets Lolabell peck her...a little weird.
I took her to the vet, hoping for antibiotics and maybe a ray of hope. The vet doesn't see chickens often, but knows birds in general. After complementing her on her loveliness and me telling her life story, the vet got on with the exam. She noted that she was quite thin (I thought that, but am not really sure as we are new to this) and said her abdomen was still quite swollen (boy, she should have seen it yesterday!). She checked her vent/cloaca and confirmed that there were no obvious masses/eggs stuck. When she took out her finger, Sugar took a really stinky, loose brown/green poo. The vet was immediately concerned by this and suspects infection.
Then she took an xray....I mentally hesitated at this as I am half certain in the back of my mind that she is doomed and this is an expensive dead end, but Sugar looked so good today that I thought maybe we'd figure something out.
Turns out, no eggs at all in there, just A LOT of fluid. The fluid made it hard/impossible to see most organs, so I suppose there could be some masses hiding in there.
So, we sent a stool sample and went home with a general antibiotic for all three of them.
Sugar took hers like a champ soaked on a piece of bread. Lolabell needed a bit more encouragement (bread with cheese around it) and Puddin' needed hers coated in yogurt.
Tomorrow, we'll find out if there are any parasites or germs causing her to be thin and sick. I am worried that something about her feed has caused a deficiency, making her weak, thin and prone to ascites. I know that severe protein deficiency in people can lead to ascites. The feed they eat is not pelleted, but whole grains with some pellets mixed in. They waste a lot and now, I wonder if they are eating enough of the protein bits. I am going to give a bunch of protein snacks (they are all a bit thin, now that I know what "thin" is) and change the feed to a higher protein. Does this sound like a good plan?
I'm hopeful that we can keep her going for a while, she really is a lovely chicken and has already forgiven me for poking a hole in her belly.
Chickens can be such cooperative patients. Although I doubt the diet on its own explains her ascites, a diet with a bit more protein might not be a bad idea. I hope she continues to improve.
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